Two hearts beating as one? Think again. A woman scorned rules this skillfully petulant and jubilantly miserable narrative. Pushing aside if not shitting on sentiment, narrator Olga, a 38-year-old mother of two, a Naples transplant stuck in Turin, tumbles into a claustrophobic wormhole following her husband Mario’s leaving her for a 20-year-old family friend (“… the untrustable, the traitor, the deserter.”) Marriage breakup stories narrated by women are the Achilles Heel of literature. Rage is often shunted toward redemption or revenge. None of that for Ferrante, whose second novel focuses on the nuts-and-bolts of coming apart — “Reality, reality, without rouge…” and “… the anxiety of falling out the web of certainties.”
“Obsolete wife” Olga hates her husband, his lover, herself, her children (“the stink of motherhood”), the family dog (it dies), her sex, his, and comes to regard what was wifely goodness as a devious life trick designed to paper over the tangible swine-side of humanness. Ferrante isn’t so much interested in how betrayal turns abyss-bound Olga almost feral as she is in the proximity of feralness to those who believe they have the good life until they don’t. Conjugal bliss is a sham — “We give it a name, that desire of the cock, we personalize it, we call it my love.” — and the story soon evolves into waking nightmare that reeks of insecticide and vomit, a fistful of the “lacerations of negligence.”
Olga’s fall eventually wraps in a parachute, but the feel of the initial push leaves its mark. Ann Goldstein’s occasionally stilted translation remains true to an unparalleled ferocity of focus that few contemporary European writers can match.